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If you’re in the market for something to watch on television I have the ultimate hold your breath, edge-of-your-seat thriller about a man who meets a maiden under the sea. The man is Cape Town, South Africa filmmaker, Craig Foster, and the maiden is not a mermaid, but a female octopus Foster forged a relationship with over the period of a year. In many ways this Academy Award-winning documentary is an unexpected love story, a tale of survival and a meaningful bond between two different, but highly intelligent species. 

I watched My Octopus Teacher the same day I rescued a baby bird who’d wound-up in the mouth of my dog, Annie. Like Craig Foster, I was struck by the resiliency and the fragility of nature, but it also gave me another pause for thought.

Every day for a year Craig Foster would hold his breath and free dive down, without a wetsuit, into the bitter cold waters of a remote kelp forest. The film is spellbinding in the way it shows Foster’s burgeoning relationship with the octopus. Instead of disguising herself or disappearing into a thin gap in the coral, she comes to trust him enough to let him see where she lives and plays, what she eats and how she mates and defends herself from predators. I was transfixed as I watched her go from being suspicious of Foster, to exploring him with the suction cups on one of her arms and later, wrapping her entire body around his chest. At one point Foster wonders if he should help the octopus avoid a predator—a pajama shark—or whether he would be interfering with the laws of nature. I know how he felt.

Earlier the same day I’d tried to rescue a baby bird in my courtyard. Like the pajama sharks that hunt for octopus, Annie is cut from the same cloth. She is a predator, disguised not with black and white stripes, but with a wagging tail when she brings me her bowl. When the baby bird failed in its attempt to fly, make no mistake: Annie swooped in for the kill. 

For weeks I’ve been warning Mr. Lizard to take his family and move to the neighbor’s yard, or “she will get you.”

Fortunately all I had to do was hold up the water hose, and Annie let the little bird fall softly from her mouth. I put Annie in the house and placed the baby in a cardboard box directly under the nest. Annie and I stayed inside, and I hoped it would be able to fly or mama bird would feed it. As the day wore on the sweltering Texas heat made it difficult for even me to breathe, and I saw the bird was in distress, so I put a small shallow bowl of water in the box and moved it a few more inches into the shade. All the while the little bird kept staring at me with those big dark eyes. I felt so helpless. Its legs were stretched out behind it, and I couldn’t tell if it was hurt. After many phone calls to veterinarians—they don’t take wild birds—that evening I drove it across town to Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation.

The next morning I watched mama bird as she perched on the roof of my courtyard. She sat there for the longest time, turning her head this way and that, looking in the direction of her now missing baby bird and the cardboard box. I imagined she was heartbroken, and all I could do was say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know what else to do.”

I don’t know if I did the right thing or if the bird will recover, but I feel guilty like I crossed a boundary I shouldn’t have crossed. 

My Octopus Teacher and my experience with the little bird gave me pause for thought. If we can go out of our way to befriend and help another species, why can’t we let go of the barriers we’ve put up and try and understand our neighbors? Especially the ones who don’t look like us or think like us. Shouldn’t it be easier to bond with another member of the human race than it is with an octopus?

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  1. I was thrilled to see that your site had an installment to read. I have missed your writing. Thank you for all your sharing. As I have aged into my 60’s I have found my heart to be “painstakingly “ tender to any /all animal stories. I shy from them….. movies , cartoons with the Grandkids, I just cannot. Your Pup sure does look great. The bowl in mouth is a hoot. .Take care.

    • Hi C, Like you I have become more of a softie as I age, whether it’s regarding people, animals, movies or commercials on television. Time and life struggles have made me more empathetic and appreciative of how difficult it can be to make it through the day and that it’s harder for some of us than it is for others. Thanks for the sweet words about Annie. She’s a great girl, and thank you for leaving me a comment.

  2. Well written! I can just see the scenario where Annie is doing what comes natural to her species while you are doing the same. Poor mama bird, looking in vain for her baby. There was really nothing else to be done but to take the little baby bird to someone who could help her survive.

    Enjoy your weekend! We had a monster of a rain storm last night and more rain today. xoxo

    • You’re right, Donna. We were all being what our DNA has programmed us to be, which at times can be disturbing and eyeopening. No monster rains here, just momentary showers that make the air more humid. xoxox, B

  3. My Octopus Teacher was beautiful. You may like Penguin Town, also. It’s more light-hearted, but very interesting.
    Ah, Annie – such a cutie, just being a dog.
    For what it’s worth, you did what I would have done. Don’t feel guilty. They will do their best get the baby bird healthy and set him free.
    Your question, “Shouldn’t it be easier…” is a good one, and worthy of a whole blog post on its own.
    XO. Donna

  4. Ah, I can imagine the stress and heartache watching that little bird and wanting the mama bird to rescue it and nurse it to health and restoration. Annie was just being the wonderful pup God designed her to be. I’ve heard numerous great reports of the place you took the injured bird. So glad you could rescue it from the Texas heat. I am sorry mama bird couldn’t locate her little one sooner. Makes me look forward to the place where the lion will lay down with the lamb.

    My Octopus Teacher looks so interesting! What an unlikely adventure and relationship. Interesting gentleman with an unusual way of thinking.

    Even more profound is your insight on us being able to reach out to others different from ourselves and have unity. May God have mercy and grant us His grace and peace in this. God help us all and bring healing and restoration to our nation, and stop those who are tearing it apart.

    I was so excited to see your blog in my email! Thank you for coming back to us! We’ve all missed your lovely writing, insights, and the wonderful things you share with us!

    Hope you’re enjoying the beauty outside in Nature and staying cool despite our Texas heat! Love and hugs!

    • I love your note, Beckye, and am as excited to see you here as you are to see me! Thanks for telling me you’ve heard great things about Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation. I gives me hope they can get the little bird in the air. I pray we can give one another the benefit of the doubt and find a way to heal and unify our nation. Most of all I hope we learn to respect one another’s differing points of view. If not we will have narrowed our circle to the size of a pinpoint. Love, Brenda

  5. Dear Brenda, I agree with Beckye. We’ve missed you and your writing. You always give me something to think about. There aren’t many places I can go to find things that don’t focus on silly celebrities and negative things in the news. You are a classy lady! Xo

  6. Brenda,
    Great post as always. I also loved My Octopus Teacher….fascinating.
    Any luck on the publisher search?

    • Hi Karen, I’m still doing my research, looking for agents who are interested in memoirs. It’s a long process, and I appreciate your interest!! xoxo, Brenda

  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings. Living one’s life is such a joyous struggle. As I sit on my suburban back porch in the relative coolness of the morning, listening to the various aviary discussions, I gave thought to your questions and the answers became somewhat more clear. I have ‘rescued’ countless struggling roly-polices/pill bugs, helping them re-right themselves or hoping I don’t inadvertently step on one. But I will spray the occasional cockroach in the house. Would you have felt differently if Annie had a rat in her mouth? Do we try to follow the non-interference rules of Nature or succumb to our own empathetic nature? I would have done the same as you.
    The question regarding whether we should strive to treat our fellow humans more like animals (which is a rather dichotomous proposition, as stated), my answer is a noble ‘yes’ in theory, but the reality is more complex. I will have to approach that one with optimistic caution.
    Thanks for merging the mundane with the profound.

    • Mark, you are a philosopher by nature, and your questions are correct: I wouldn’t have been as empathetic with a rat or a cockroach. I wasn’t suggesting we treat our fellow man more like we do the animals we’re sympathetic to, rather we should make the same effort to understand one another’s viewpoints and perhaps role reverse. I’ve found it’s helpful for understanding people. Hope to see you here, again. Brenda

  8. Thank you for this interesting and contemplative post. I hope you will soon return to a weekly blog.

    • Hi Colleen, Right now my first goal is to write the best manuscript I can and find a book agent who’s interested in it and is a good fit for me. Please know I will blog at every opportunity, because I’ve missed all of you as well. xoxox, Brenda

    I GOT IT TO SAFETY then a few hours later NO MOM SHOWED UP we assumed she had died on the freeway above!
    Long story short I closed my shop and brought her home in my lap driving a stick shift!Had told the other shopkeeper to run to SAFEWAY to get me a baby bottle and some formula!MY HUSBAND told me I couldn’t keep HER!I SAID WHY?Audrey Hepburn had a pet DEER!SHE TOOK IT TO MARKET WITH HER………….and way I gave in and took her to a WILD LIFE SPOT they told me on the phone to put her back where I found HER!I SAID thats IMPOSSIBLE!I found out a few days later they kept her on a cement floored cage with no contact and of course YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED……..

    • I do remember that, Elizabeth! That’s heartbreaking. Did you know a mama deer won’t have anything to do with the baby if she smells human scent on the little one. On the ranch James often reminded me not to get any closer than ten feet, that the mama would most likely be back. In your case the baby was on the freeway and you did the best thing. Shame on the caregivers where you took it. I’d pay money to see a video of you driving a stick shift with a little deer in your lap! Love, Brenda

  10. Brenda, you have a beautiful heart. I’m amazed you went to so much trouble to save the little bird. I know I wouldn’t have.
    I love your thoughts about how we connect to other people. Most people are good; we need to remember that.

  11. I appreciate your trying to help the baby bird; however, I am astonished that none of the places you called didn’t advise you to just leave it alone. The parents WILL come back, as you witnessed. Thank you for rescuing it from the dog.

    • I knew the parents would come back, but I couldn’t leave it outside, vulnerable to the heat and the critters that come in the night, plus I wasn’t sure about taking it in the house. Some mothers, like deer, won’t have anything to do with their young if they smell human scent on them. This was my first experience, trying to rescue something other than dogs and cats. I didn’t know what to do, and I feared leaving it there. xoxox, Brenda

  12. I think the premise behind your post was lost. It was not so much about saving the little bird or befriending an octopus but your thought processes following both. Why can we not, as a human race, tolerate and befriend those who are different from us, whether that be race, religion, sexual preference, etc? We can do better and should strive to be better.

    • Joanna, Perhaps some readers focused more on the animals in my story, but I purposely didn’t want to hit readers over the head with tolerance. I think my point was well-taken. It takes thoughtful discipline to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and try to understand their point of view. It’s easier to let our emotions rule, don’t you think? xoxox, B

  13. this was a beautiful piece, and mother nature has its ways. i don’t think she would have relished the story ending with annie, tho…so rescuing the bird was a good thing. as for people, of course, we should…but with two or more sentient beings in the equation, that can be difficult, as we all have experienced. its just hard.

  14. Ah, if only it were so easy to “”Shouldn’t it be easier to bond with another member of the human race than it is with an octopus?”

    Even thought you did the right thing I would be feeling guilty also. It ain’t easy is it?

  15. That captivating film left me with more questions! I suspected he had difficulty with his human relationships. But as to your speculation about getting along better with our fellow humans, I think progress is being made on that front. I have no data to back up this claim. Just a hunch.

    • Mithra, I think he talked about having trouble communicating with people and decided he needed to go to the sea and the tremendous difference it made in his ability to talk and share things with his son and others. As for getting along better with one another… The nightly news says violent crime is up in most of the major cities in the country, sometimes as much as 500%. Not sure that correlates with learning to talk to one another. xoxox, B

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